Examples of aerobic exercise include brisk walking and cycling. Sprinting and weightlifting are forms of anaerobic exercise.
Both types of exercise are beneficial for human health, although each will benefit the body in different ways.
In this article, we outline the similarities and differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. We also explain some of the potential benefits and risks of these two types of exercise and how often people should do each one.
Aerobic exercises are endurance exercises in which a person’s muscles move in a rhythmic and coordinated manner for a continuous period of time.
People call these exercises aerobics because they need oxygen to generate energy. Aerobic exercise increases a person’s heart rate and breathing rate to provide more oxygen to the body’s muscles.
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- brisk walking
Anaerobic exercises are those that involve short, intense physical activity.
These exercises are anaerobic because they do not involve an increase in oxygen absorption and transport. During anaerobic exercise, the body breaks down glucose stores in the absence of oxygen, resulting in the formation of lactic acid in the muscles.
Examples of Anaerobic Exercises Include:
- high intensity interval training (HIIT)
Differences Between Aerobic Exercise & Anaerobic Exercise
The main differences between aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise are:
- how the body uses stored energy
- the intensity of the exercise
- the length of time that a person is able to maintain the exercise
Aerobic exercises are rhythmic, gentle and long lasting. Anaerobic exercises involve short bursts of high-intensity activity.
In general, aerobic exercise helps to increase endurance, while aerobic exercise helps to increase muscle mass and strength.
Benefits and Risks
While both types of exercise provide a variety of benefits, these may differ slightly.
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
In general, aerobic exercises increase heart rate and breathing speed and increase circulation. In this way, they improve a person’s heart health.
Some of the potential benefits of aerobic exercise include:
- increasing stamina and reducing fatigue
- assisting weight management
- lowering blood pressure
- increasing levels of “good” cholesterol and lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood
- stimulating the immune system
- improving mood
- improving sleep
- slowing losses in bone density
A 2015 study investigated whether regular aerobic activity reduced a person’s risk of death. Research has shown that people who do light jogging for 1-2.4 hours for more than two or three runs a week have a significantly lower risk of death than those who do not exercise.
However, people who practiced hard jogging had the same risk of death as those who did not exercise at all. This finding suggests that moderate aerobic exercise may help reduce the risk of death, but that high-intensity aerobic exercise may not provide any additional benefits.
Risks of Aerobic Exercises
Aerobic exercise is beneficial for most people. However, people should talk to a doctor before starting aerobic exercise if they:
- There is a pre-existing cardiac condition, such as:
- Heart condition
- Achilles tendon disease
- High blood pressure
- Blood clots
- There is a risk of developing a heart condition.
- Recovering from a stroke or other type of heart attack.
Doctors may be able to prescribe specific exercise recommendations or sensible restrictions to help a person facilitate regular aerobic exercise.
Even a person with a sedentary lifestyle should gradually facilitate physical activity. The sudden introduction of long-term, rapid aerobic exercise can put unnecessary strain on the body.
Benefits of Anaerobic Exercises
Just like aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise has beneficial effects on a person’s heart health.
However, compared to aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise requires more energy from the body in less time. Thus, anaerobic exercise can be especially beneficial for those who want to lose body fat.
Anaerobic exercise also helps a person gain or maintain muscle mass and increase bone density.
Risks of Anaerobic Exercises
Anaerobic exercise is usually more demanding on the body and requires more effort. Thus, people should make sure that they have a basic level of fitness before doing intense anaerobic exercise.
People with basic health concerns should consult a doctor before incorporating any anaerobic exercise into their exercise routine.
Working with a personal trainer can also be beneficial when doing anaerobic exercises for the first time. A personal trainer can ensure that the person performs the exercise correctly to reduce the risk of overwork or injury.